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Tucked away within the suburb of Nanterre, west of Paris, a brand new bookshop has shortly made its mark, not least on its largely immigrant group.

Sociology graduates Halima M’Birik and Elsa Piacentino stated they took a raffle, launching their enterprise, in March final yr, within the unlikely location exterior of the principle metropolis.

“Individuals hold saying, ‘why did you open your bookstore right here?’” says Halima M’Birik, 34, who met Elsa Piacentino, additionally 34, once they had been each college students on the college of Nanterre.

“However within the neighbourhood, the bookstore was a godsend. It’s been two years since there had been a bookstore on the town,” M’Birik tells Center East Eye.

What’s in a reputation?

The selection of location, but in addition the identify, has been a supply of intrigue for a lot of. El Ghorba Mon Amour, a mixture of Arabic and French, interprets to Exile, My Love, and it’s the primary phrase particularly that piques the curiosity of locals. An emotional time period for a lot of immigrants, the phrase “exile” recollects emotions of nostalgia for a earlier homeland, typically blended with loss or trauma.

“One lady began to cry when she noticed the phrase [El Ghorba]. She got here in and stated, ‘Thanks. Thanks for remembering our dad and mom, for remembering their story.’ She knew immediately what the identify stood for,” says Piacentino.

Elsa Piacentino and Halima M'Birik, co-founders of the new bookstore El Ghorba mon amour (MEE / Nadia Bouchenni)
Piacentino (R) and M’Birik (L), have all the time been concerned in social change tasks, and the bookshop is not any totally different (MEE / Nadia Bouchenni)

It was at college that M’Birik and Piacentino first encountered the time period El Ghorba, by means of Algerian writer Abdelmalek Sayad’s (1999) ebook La Double Absence (The Struggling of the Immigrant), which examines the intricate dichotomy between emigration and immigration.  

“I’m not from a household of Arabic audio system, so the time period has no private connotations for me in any way,” says Piacentino.

“However once we found Sayad’s writings, and significantly his account of the immigrant from Kabylia [in Northern Algeria], we naturally made the hyperlink between sociology, the historical past of immigration, and the historical past of the town of Nanterre.”

The second half of the identify, Mon Amour, is derived from the 1959 French movie Hiroshima Mon Amour.

“To us, it echoed the notion of El Ghorba, and the contrasts we wished to spotlight. As a result of the exile of El Ghorba is an expertise of struggling but in addition of life, of doable encounters and hope,” M’Birik says.

“The movie additionally explores concepts of impossibility… of talking about some issues, and that of remembering within the wake of trauma. This was clearly linked to our work on concepts of reminiscence and wrestle.”

An area for tales

It’s themes like this that had been the driving drive behind their chosen location. M’Birik and Piacentino had been undecided on how they’d proceed their work in direction of social change – whereas college students that they had been energetic within the 2006 protests in France, opposing authorities makes an attempt to decontrol labour, and within the creation of the RUSF (College Community With out Borders) to assist overseas college students get resident playing cards.

However they had been sure they wished to create “some form of house” within the public housing district of Provinces Françaises.

“We didn’t know what form our venture would take on the time, however we did know the place. That was what mattered,” Piacentino says.
 

The Parisian bookshop stocks a diverse collection of literature, including books discussing the experience of migration (Instagram)
The Parisian bookshop shares a various assortment of literature, together with books discussing the expertise of migration (Instagram)

Providing greater than the standard novels or nice names in literature, the shop consists of books by French writers Faiza Guene’s La Discretion, Vehlmann Fabien’s Le Dernier Atlas and Vivants by Mehdi Charef, an Algerian writer who lived within the bidonvilles (shantytowns) in Nanterre. 

As a result of it’s tales like these, of oldsters and grandparents who’ve skilled exile however whose tales are misplaced if they don’t seem to be handed on, which are indispensable in preserving reminiscences alive for youthful generations to be taught concerning the tradition of their heritage.  

“We wished to place the idea into practise in our bookstore. To make it a spot for remembering previous struggles, for remembering these tales and the difficulties of transmission.

“We wished the identify of the shop to include all of that. In La Double Absence, Sayad says that the deadlock linked to exile can solely be left behind by means of political existence,” M’Birik says.

Regenerating readers

Their dedication to selling books and neighbourhood solidarity started in 2012. For 3 years they repeatedly held a bookstall close to the Nanterre subway station exit. 

Nanterre in 1964 has undergone a transformation through a government regeneration programme (AFP)
The shantytowns in Nanterre (pictured in 1964) are dwelling to a big immigrant inhabitants, and are actually a part of a authorities regeneration programme (AFP)

“We didn’t need to wait till we had an precise place, [so] we based an affiliation and began holding our open-priced ebook gross sales. It was our means of assembly individuals,” M’Birik says.

“We organised neighbourhood events and native occasions too, with the assistance of Nanterre’s intensive community of native associations. So, when our retailer lastly opened, everybody was like ‘You probably did it! You opened your retailer!’ They had been all ready for us.”

Their enterprise has come on the again of a government-led regeneration venture (2014-20) which has seen the College subway station renovated. Building on a brand new procuring centre is being constructed and a lot of workplace and condo blocks have gone up across the older public housing items, which have additionally undergone a change.

Though there are some efforts to assist and have interaction weak communities on this neighbourhood the place lots of the space’s extra disadvantaged inhabitants reside, everlasting initiatives like a retail outlet concentrating on the local people are few and much between.

Everybody welcome

The thought of a hybrid Arabic-French retailer identify didn’t sit properly with everybody, particularly with one monetary backer who conflated it with a faith-based venture.

Lately tensions have escalated in France over the place of Islam and Muslims within the nation, with President Emmanuel Macron’s authorities presenting a strict draft regulation aiming to deal with “Islamist separatism”. There are fears this might contribute to the conflation between Muslims and terrorism in a rustic already rife with Islamophobia. 

Nonetheless, for M’Birik and Piacentino, they had been making a robust political assertion with their bookshop.

“Some buyers, particularly one of many bankers, felt it must be simply one other bookstore, a spot for wealthy individuals and whites. [They said] it could by no means entice individuals residing in a working-class neighbourhood, which means the poor and the non-white. It was an extremely problematic imaginative and prescient,” says Piacentino.

‘How will you defend the thought of common entry to tradition when there aren’t any areas devoted to mainstream tradition, when what you do is inaccessible to most?

Halima M’Birik, co-founder of El Ghorba Mon Amour

“They advised us we had been making a twofold strategic error, by opening our retailer right here and selecting a half-Arabic identify,” she says.

Regardless of the response, the 2 mates caught to their authentic thought and opened the bookstore promoting common books relatively than activist literature.

“It’s one thing we gave lots of thought to. The truth that there aren’t any bookstores in Nanterre as we speak additionally influenced our determination,” Piacentino says.

M’Birik, who used to work in Nanterre’s public library, provides that their ebook choice was supposed to be as inclusive as doable.

“We’ve to cast off the elitist mindset. A commerce books retailer that sells mainstream literature is a means of encouraging individuals. All people right here is welcome.

“How will you defend the thought of common entry to tradition when there aren’t any areas devoted to mainstream tradition, when what you do is inaccessible to most?” she says.

“Taking this sort of stand would solely replicate and reinforce patterns of exclusion and division. Opening a non-specialised bookstore was our means of claiming that everybody is welcome. The thought is straightforward actually – to succeed in as many individuals as doable”.

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